The Best Canon General Purpose Lens

Nearly everyone needs/wants a general purpose zoom lens - also referred to as a standard/normal zoom lens or a walk-around lens.

Typically: This is the lens that you leave on your camera for everyday needs. This is the lens you photograph your family with. This is the lens you capture life with. This is the lens you travel with. This is the lens responsible for preservation of your memories. This is the most important lens in your kit.

Because this lens will probably be your most-used, because this lens will capture what is most important to you and because the quality of the lens makes a huge difference in your photographs, I highly recommend buying the highest quality standard zoom lens you can afford.

I consider the heart of the general purpose focal length range to be about 28-70mm for a full frame camera or 18-45mm for an APS-C format DSLR camera with its 1.6x FOVCF. Since these two focal length ranges are quite different, and because some lenses are not compatible with full frame format DSLR cameras, I'm going to separate my recommendations below. Read on for the APS-C recommendations or go directly to the Canon full frame general purpose lens recommendations.

APS-C General Purpose Focal Length Range

18-55mm APS-C Focal Length Range Example

 
The Best Canon APS-C/1.6x General Purpose Zoom Lenses - My Recommendations

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens
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1. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens

Best-Available Image Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization

If I were forced to pick only one APS-C lens, this would be the one. The EF-S 17-55 gives you the best Canon zoom lens image quality available along with a wide, constant-over-the-zoom-range, max f/2.8 aperture (vs. a variable max aperture) that is useful for stopping action in low light or for creating background blur. Also included in this lens are fast and accurate Ring USM-driven autofocus and valuable image stabilization.

Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens
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2. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Wide Focal Length Range, Great Value, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization

The EF-S 15-85 does not have the wide f/2.8 aperture the EF-S 17-55 has, but it retains excellent image quality and has a wider range of focal lengths in a more-compact size. This lens is an especially good choice for landscape and travel photography. Like the EF-S 17-55, this lens features fast and accurate Ring USM-driven autofocus and valuable image stabilization.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
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3. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Great Value, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing

The 24-105's focal length range slides toward the long end of the general purpose range for APS-C body users, but it is still very well-loved by this group. The fixed f/4 max aperture falls in the middle between the f/2.8 options and the variable max aperture lenses. If you are not stopping action indoors without flash, f/4 works great for most purposes.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
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4. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens

Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Weather Sealing

As with the 24-105 L, the 24-70L II's focal length range slides toward the longer end of what most want in their APS-C normal zoom lens. The 24-70L II is all about performance and this lens represents as-good-as-it-gets for standard zoom lens image quality - very impressive. The 24-70L II lacks image stabilization and carries a weighty price tag. This L-Series lens is full frame compatible.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
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5. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Macro Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Good Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing

As I write this summary, I would not consider the 24-70 f/4L IS a great value as the 24-105L IS is readily available for a significantly lower price. But, this is still a very good general purpose lens choice - especially with the impressive macro capabilities this lens has. Again, the 24-70mm focal length range is somewhat long for many APS-C camera owners. And again, this is a full frame compatible, weather-sealed L-Series lens.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens
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6. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens

The World's First f/1.8 Zoom Lens, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality

While this lens does not have optical stabilization or a wide range of focal lengths (falling short of my recommended range), it makes up for its shortcomings with by far the widest aperture available on a zoom lens. This lens will stop low light action and create background blur like no other zoom lens can on an APS-C format camera. Sigma delivers very impressive phyical features to accompany the excellent image quality you can expect from this lens.

Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens
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7. Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens

Long Focal Length Range, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality, Optical Stabilization, Classy Looks

As I said earlier, the 24-105mm focal length range slides toward the long end of the general purpose range for APS-C body users, but many prefer the longer focal lengths. The fixed f/4 max aperture is not as wide as the f/2.8 options, but f/4 is adequate for many needs. The image quality this lens delivers is excellent and the look and feel of this lens match.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
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8. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens

Great Image Quality, Excellent Vibration Control, Great Value, Nice Build Quality, Good Focal Length Range, Weather Sealing

For a significantly lower cost than the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens, the Tamron 24-70 VC gives you the same focal length range, the same wide aperture and image quality that is not greatly different. In addition, the 24-70 VC adds a great feature - vibration control. If capturing fast action is on your to-do list, opt for the Canon as the Tamron did not perform well for me in AI Servo mode.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens
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9. Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens

Attractive Price, Sharp Image Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Compact Size

If you can't afford one of the Canon options above, the Tamron 17-50 non-VC is a good standard zoom lens option. The image quality to price ratio for this lens is quite high. And you get the wide f/2.8 max aperture over the entire focal length range.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM Lens
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10. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM Lens

Good Image Quality, Great Build Quality, Ring USM AF

If you need full frame compatibility but also need the wider focal lengths for your standard zoom lens, consider the 17-40 L. This reasonably-priced lens, or perhaps the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, is a good choice under these parameters. Neither of these lenses is going to impress with its longest focal lengths, but both are high gradeL Lenses.

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11. Buy the Best Kit Lens You Can Afford

If the recommended lenses are still over your budget, your best option is probably to buy the best kit lens you can afford. Canon APS-C DSLR camera kit lens options typically include the EF-S 18-55mm IS, EF-S 18-135mm IS and sometimes the EF-S 18-200mm IS lenses. These lenses are usually an especially good value when purchased with a camera.

 

Full Frame General Purpose Focal Length Range

24-70mm Full Frame Focal Length Range Example

 

The Best Canon Full Frame General Purpose Zoom Lenses - My Recommendations

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
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1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens

Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Very Fast Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Weather Sealing

The 24-70L II is all about performance. ThisL lens delivers as-good-as-it-gets for standard zoom lens image quality - it will impress. Impressive autofocus performance combined with the wide f/2.8 max aperture make this the lens of choice for photographing sports and other low light action. This lens' biggest missing feature is image stabilization. And the big price tag will turn away some potential buyers.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
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2. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Great Value, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing

The 24-105L nicely extends the 24-70L II's focal length range - and adds very-important-to-some image stabilization. The fixed f/4 max aperture, while not bad, is able to allow only 1/2 as much light to reach the sensor as an f/2.8 aperture. But motionless subjects can be photographed in significantly lower light levels thanks to IS. The 24-105 f/4L IS Lens has been my most-used-ever lens. It performs superbly.

The 24-105L is a very good value when purchased alone, but it is an especially great value when purchased in a kit with one of Canon's higher end DSLRs.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
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3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Macro Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing

The 24-70 f/4L IS was introduced soon after the 24-70 f/2.8L II. And it came with the feature that many of us wanted on the II - image stabilization. But, it of course lacks the wide f/2.8 aperture. We already had the more-attractively-priced 24-105 f/4L IS and wondered what advantages this lens would bring us. Significant macro capability is the biggest advantage. Less distortion at 24mm is another. Price is the biggest downside.

Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens
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4. Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens

Great General Purpose Focal Length Range, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality, Optical Stabilization, Classy Looks

Unless you need a wider aperture, this lens has what you are looking for. Top-of-the-line image quality, great build quality and great looks in a fun-to-use lens package. The price makes this lens an especially good value.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
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5. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens

Great Image Quality, Excellent Vibration Control, Great Value, Nice Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Weather Sealing

For a significantly lower cost than the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L IS II Lens, the Tamron 24-70 VC gives you the same focal length range, the same wide aperture and image quality not greatly different. In addition, the 24-70 VC adds a great feature - vibration control. If capturing fast action is on your to-do list, opt for the Canon.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM Lens
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6. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM Lens

Good Image Quality, Great Build Quality, Ring USM AF, Good Value

While this focal length range is not my preference for everyday use, the 17-40L will give you the image quality your full frame DSLR camera needs at a more economical price. This lens also complements a 24-something lens very nicely.

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7. Buy One or More Prime Lenses

I think you have made a great choice to step up to full frame sensor format camera image quality. And you will want a strong-performing zoom lens to take full advantage of this quality. If the L-series zoom lenses listed above are too expensive for your budget, I suggest that you pick up an inexpensive Canon general purpose prime lens until you can save enough for the right zoom lens.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

8. Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

Low Price, Ring USM AF & Image Stabilization

While I rather you not go here, the old 28-135 IS lens is an economical choice if you have to have a zoom lens and can't afford better. While 28mm is not real wide, the 135mm end is very nice. Although it has one of the earliest image stabilization implementations, IS is better than no IS.

 

Other Important General Purpose Lenses

While the general purpose/normal/standard zoom lens is going to get the most use by the typical photographer, a kit of lenses will work best for most. Here are the most-recommended next-lenses:

  1. The next lens that most people want in their kit is a telephoto lens. The versatile telephoto lens will typically get used for capturing sporting events, performances (think kids), portraits, wildlife, landscapes and much more.
  2. Then get your wide angles covered. Wide angle lenses find use in many photography scenarios including landscape, architecture and tight spaces (often indoors).
  3. Most people will want to add a macro lens to the kit. The range of subjects available for a macro lens are endless.

 

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